Willpower Vs. Tiny Habits: Which Works Best?

This has been a particularly tough start to the week! Where I am, the weather changed suddenly from sunny, cloudless skies to rainy, chilly weather, which made me catch a bit of a cold, which has effectively lowered my energy to do very much, which in turn has affected my wanting to do very much. I am sure you all identify with this. But I believe what has rescued me from drifting into old habits are the solid goals I have set for myself, and the emotional investment I have made on their success. So when I am feeling at my worst, this is my greatest form of willpower.

A lot of us have problems with maintaining goals. Sure, we can write them down, and January has proven how much of a rocket-launching catalyst it can be, because everybody is in the mood to start working on their goals and resolutions.

But a little month called February rolls by, and suddenly, all that is forgotten.

The gyms suddenly report significantly lower attendance than the beginning of the year, your friends have suddenly stopped talking about all the things they want to finally stop doing, and your good pal who said he’d stop drinking this year strolls in to the bar, sits next to you and shrugs, saying “hey… I tried!”

The problem with giving up so soon is that you re-enforce the patterns of your brain and body, and a proved, once again, that you cannot follow through on an intention you had. So what do you need to get back on track?

How about, the power of will-power?

According to this article from the American Psychologists Association, willpower is defined as: –

  • the ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals
  • the capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling or impulse
  • the ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behavior rather than a “hot” emotional system
  • conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self
  • a limited resource capable of being depleted

Others would describe willpower as indomitable strength to carry on through adversity, no matter what the conditions may be. But how many of us have this trait in us?

Stanford University researchers led by Dr. B.J. Fogg, are not for the use of will-power for behavioural change. The results from the studies they conducted termed willpower as one of the top 10 mistakes in behavioural change. According to them, willpower should only be used as a short-term strategy, and not for long stretches of time.

So with all this information, what should one do when changing and maintaining new habits with little to no willpower?

  1. I would suggest clearly defining what it is that you want to change, why you want to change it and how important it is to you.Is it an option or an absolute must? If it is an option, you will not have much will to follow through when things get difficult
  2. Asess your discipline level: If you know you are not ready to lose the 50 pounds your doctor told you that you must get rid of, then my suggestion is to start small. Do not go from laying on the couch every evening to doing 2 hours of cardio every day. That is guaranteed to get you nowhere fast. Start with little habits.
  3. Speaking of little habits, I wrote an article earlier in the year about Dr. B. J. Fogg’s remarkable alternative to changing habits. Dr. Fogg recommends joining his 5-day program, picking 3 simple, very easy and non-disruptive ways to implement new habits in one’s life using current activities that you already do as “anchors”, e.g. going to bed, waking up, brushing your teeth, driving, etc. I joined this free programme at the beginning of this year, and the habits that I chose are still a part of me.

– I make up my bed the minute I wake up every morning, something I was notorious for never doing,

– When I walk into work, I make sure to have a glass of water on my desk to drink, and

– Before I go to sleep at night, I remind myself of at least one thing I am thankful for.

These are wonderful alternatives to using lots of willpower to get you through something when you could simply adopt easier habits that fit very well with your daily schedule. Tiny habits and willpower are the reason I can write this article to you, despite a pesky cough and low energy!

I do hope you have found this article helpful. If you know anyone who would find this information useful, simply scroll to the end of this article and share it!

Enjoy the rest of your week!